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American History Reviews: Written in America’s Soul

By Gene Santoro
3/21/2018 • American History Magazine

With Malice Toward None: The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Exhibition

Library of Congress Washington, D.C., February 12 through May 9

In Lincoln’s Hand: His Original Manuscripts

Edited by Harold Holzer and Joshua Wolf Shenk, Bantam, 196 pp., $35

Abraham Lincoln is often called an enigma, with good reason. But to peruse his letters, speeches and miscellany replete with emendations is to get as far inside the great man’s head as we are ever likely to—and in the process, witness his sense of inferiority, fears, strength, resolve and growth to greatness.

Hence this Library of Congress exhibit, showcasing more than 2,000 pieces from the hallowed institution’s Lincoln documents collection. All of Lincoln’s “greatest hits” are here: his first and second inaugural addresses, the Gettysburg Address, the Emancipation Proclamation. But so is “lesser” but no less informative stuff: the grammar book young Abe used to study English; the notes he made for his debates against Stephen Douglas; his scrapbook of newspaper clippings; his letters to Generals Meade, Grant and Sherman; and his correspondence with Grace Bedell wryly discussing the merits of his growing a beard. Sprinkled throughout are campaign, election and other memorabilia. Many of these treasures have never been seen by the public until now.

In Lincoln’s Hand, the book that accompanies the exhibit, beautifully reproduces facsimiles of many of the historic documents, augmented by commentary from presidents (both George Bushes, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter); politicos (Mario Cuomo, Newt Gingrich); historians (Doris Kearns Goodwin, James M. McPherson, John Hope Franklin, David Herbert Donald, Thomas Mallon, Henry Louis Gates Jr.); artists and writers (Toni Morrison, John Updike, Walter Mosley, Ken Burns); Hollywood types (Steven Spielberg, Liam Neeson, Sam Waterston, Conan O’Brien); and even former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on Lincoln’s “Notes on the Practice of Law,” which characteristically opens, “I am not an accomplished lawyer.”

Like the words it enshrines, this inspiring tribute will last more than a lifetime.

 

Originally published in the April 2009 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here.  

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